State wages war on mediocrity

21st January 2000 at 00:00
UNITED STATES. Jon Marcus reports on California's plan to increase spending on the classroom 'frontline' by 13 per cent

THE governor of California has launched a multibillion-dollar push to reform education in America's most populous state.

Declaring "war on mediocrity in our schools", governor Gray Davis has proposed $1,000 (pound;625) university scholarships for 100,000 high-school students in the top 5 per cent of their class, subsidised pre-school places for an additional 100,000 low-income children, and more computers in classrooms. To tempt people into teaching he is suggesting cash bonuses and low-cost home loans.

The plan would pour most of an expected $3 billion budget surplus into education, increasing state school spending by 13 per cent.

During his "state of the state" address, Mr Davis used war-like imagery as he set out his proposals, which are expected easily to pass the sympathetic legislature during the next few months. He called educational reform "our generation's call to arms".

"The war for the future will not be fought on some distant battlefield, but right here at home," the governor said. "It will be fought school to school, classroom to classroom, desk to desk, one qualified teacher at a time, one motivated student at a time."

California must recruit and train an estimated 25,000 teachers a year for the next 10 years to cope with growing pupil numbers and expected retirements. Even today, one in 10 of California's teachers lacks full credentials; it is ne in four in urban centres such as Los Angeles.

The governor called for five new teacher-recruiting centres and for incentives including $2,000 cash bonuses and $11,000 payments toward student loans for new teachers who agree to work in low-performing schools.

Mr Davis wants top graduates to be offered $20,000 fellowships if they qualify to teach, while other graduates would be offered up to $30,000 towards a new home.

Retired teachers would be allowed to maintain their full pension benefits if they return to the classrooms. And new training institutes would be opened to help veteran teachers keep up with instructional techniques.

Governor Gray said: "There is no higher calling, no greater public service, no contribution more valued than to join the front lines of the future, in the classroom."

With an estimated 2 million new teachers needed in the next 10 years, many states are promising similar financial rewards to lure recruits.

Massachusetts is offering signing bonuses of as much as $20,000 to top college graduates. South Carolina is raising salaries of those willing to work in the

lowest-performing schools by as much as 50 per cent.

Mr Davis's proposals weren't entirely heroic. Much of the education spending is laid down by Proposition 98, a 1988 voter-approved initiative guaranteeing schools about 40 per cent of the state budget, although the governor's plan exceeds these levels.

The governor said spending more would require raising taxes.

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